Tokyo 2020 Bid Backed by Public, Singing Prime Minister

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe burst into song this week as his three-month-old government renewed a pitch for the 2020 Olympic Summer Games, boosted by a leap in public support for the project.

The International Olympic Committee’s evaluation panel inspected Japanese facilities and plans, attended a gala dinner with Abe and received an invitation to visit Crown Prince Naruhito. An IOC poll released this week showed support for the bid in the city had soared to 70 percent, compared with 47 percent last May.

Tokyo is seeking to shake off losing to Rio de Janeiro in the race for the 2016 Games, when it failed to attract broad support from either politicians or the public. The IOC will decide between the Japanese capital, Madrid and Istanbul in September. Madrid had 78 percent local support, while the Turkish city was backed by 73 percent of the population in IOC polls last year.

“The best thing about the games here would be exactly what happened in my own city of London, the sheer enthusiasm,” said Craig Reedie, who heads the IOC Evaluation Commission, at a press conference in Tokyo. “We have witnessed the strong government support the bid enjoys.”

The commission, which wrapped up a four-day visit to Tokyo yesterday, will also visit Madrid and Istanbul this month. Reedie called bid organizers “highly professional” in his final press conference.

Making sure the local population is on your side is crucial for winning over the IOC, according to Sebastian Coe, the chairman of the London 2012 organizing committee who was in charge of that city’s winning bid presentation in 2005.

Abe’s Dream

“Why does a city really want to deliver a Games and what do they want to do with it?” Coe told an audience in Madrid on March 4. “The most critical stakeholder that any city has to deal with is of course the people that live in that city.”

Abe told the commission in a speech at a welcome event that hosting the Olympics was a long-held dream, at one point breaking into a rendition of the theme song of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Parliament is throwing its support behind the bid -- this week passing its second motion in favor of it.

London’s strong emphasis on leaving a lasting sporting, economic and cultural legacy for its population has raised the bar for future Olympic bids, Tokyo 2020 President Tsunekazu Takeda said in an interview in London in January.

Just as the 9.3 billion-pound ($14 billion) London Games -- which regenerated a derelict part of the city -- used existing buildings and built temporary structures to save money, the Tokyo bid also has a strong emphasis on leaving a lasting legacy for its population, he said.

“We’re one of the world’s most forward-thinking cities,” Takeda said in London.

National Stadium

Tokyo plans to transform its national stadium from the 1964 Olympics into a high-tech 80,000-seat arena for 2020, using U.K.-based architect Zaha Hadid, the architect who designed the Aquatics Centre for London.

Tokyo’s Governor Naoki Inose emphasized safety, efficient public transport and the financial stability of the world’s largest city in his presentations. The venue plan centers around the national stadium while other facilities will be revamped.

“Not all political parties were in favor of the last bid,” Takeda told reporters in Tokyo on March 5. “This time around, 90 percent of lawmakers have backed it from the beginning. People are seeing the new Abe administration and ‘Abenomics’ economic policies as leading to a bright future.”

He was referring to Abe’s plans for monetary easing and fiscal stimulus, which have sparked a jump in stock prices and an export-boosting decline in the yen.

Economic Effects

A separate poll published by the Yomiuri newspaper on Feb. 25 found 83 percent support nationwide, compared with 72 percent in January last year. The most popular reason cited was hopes of an economic boost, as Japan seeks to escape a recession after three consecutive quarters of contraction to December 2012.

The 2008 Beijing Games -- which cost $67 billion -- did not spark much additional investment, nor did it result in a tourism boom, according to a report published by Goldman Sachs last year. London 2012 provided only a short-lived economic boost and the U.K. remains mired in the longest peacetime slump since


“There’s not a single piece of evidence for economic regeneration, a boost in tourism, or an increase in participation in sport from any previous Games,” said Mark Perryman, a research fellow in sport and leisure culture at the University of Brighton in the U.K. The host city should instead simply decide whether it wants a “fantastic party,” he said.

Upgrade Venues

Tokyo’s metropolitan government has set aside 408.8 billion yen ($4.37 billion) for constructing and upgrading venues. The bid committee forecasts that the costs of running the event will exactly match revenue at 341 billion yen.

The government is emphasizing the role of the games in marking Japan’s recovery from the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011.

Tokyo is the favorite to win, according to U.K. bookmaker William Hill Plc, while on it scores just less than Istanbul. The winning city is set to be announced in Buenos Aires on Sept. 7.

Getting the message right is crucial, according to Coe.

“The fundamental question is why?” Coe said. “How are you going to use the Games for the future? You have to be clear what those legacy targets are.”

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